Meriem ZINE: “The satisfaction of our clients’ needs is at the core of our strategy at Advans”

In Tunisia, microfinance plays a crucial role in the fight against poverty, and its impact on local economic development has been tangible for over 20 years. However, its recovery efforts in the post Covid-19 phase have been even more significant, especially for Advans Tunisia.

Today, Advans Tunisia strongly contributes to the creation and preservation of jobs, and more importantly to the improvement of its clients’ living standards. Its CEO, Meriem Zine, explains in this interview the state of the microfinance sector in Tunisia, the positioning of Advans Tunisia, as well as the company’s achievements and ambitions for the years to come.

How can you describe the microfinance sector in Tunisia?

When we say microfinance, we generally think of loans granted for small amounts and short periods to micro-entrepreneurs. But microfinance is more generally a set of financial and non-financial products aimed at a low-income population. This population is most often excluded from the financial system because it does not keep accounts or does not have any guarantees to offer.

In Tunisia, microfinance began to develop in 1997 with the creation of the Tunisian Solidarity Bank (BTS).  In 1999, a first law was adopted to regulate micro loans granted by microcredit associations (MCAs), and it was only in 2011 that a decree-law on the organization of the activity of microfinance institutions (MFIs) was issued. The main contribution of this text is that it allowed limited companies to grant microloans for the first time. Since 2019, MFIs have been able to diversify their activities by offering their clients micro-insurance products.

Today, 7 microfinance institutions operate in Tunisia. These institutions are subject to the anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism financing, and client protection regulation. They operate under the supervision of the Microfinance Control Authority (ACM) which reports to the Ministry of Finance. The ACM issues authorizations to MFIs and ensures the supervision of the sector in the same way that the Central Bank supervises banks.

One of the characteristics of this sector is the Risk Department founded by the ACM which allows MFIs to share financial data on microloan beneficiaries and to verify their solvency. This mechanism strengthens the financial soundness of MFIs and the sector in general and ensures a better protection of clients against over-indebtedness.  

The microcredit ceiling is currently set at 40,000 Dinars for limited liability microfinance institutions and the maximum repayment term is seven years. For MFIs operating as associations, the ceiling is 10,000 Dinars and the maximum repayment period is five years. However, these ceilings are lower when it comes to funding targeted at the improvement of living conditions.

What role does it play in financial inclusion?

Today, the sector serves more than 520,000 clients, with a loan portfolio of over 1.6 billion Dinars. Microfinance strongly contributes to the creation and maintenance of jobs, to the growth of the private sector, and to the improvement of the living standard of its clients. By supporting entrepreneurs who are excluded from traditional financing channels and do not have access to bank loans, microfinanceparticipates in economic and social development, particularly in inland regions.

For instance, the number of people accessing first-time financing through microloans was 59,782 in 2022. This number rose to 229,101 individuals over the 2019 – 2022 period.

Financial instruments such as micro-insurance, which are now starting to develop, can also play an important role in financial inclusion. We are currently developing insurance products adapted to our clients, such as capitalization or provident life insurance, agricultural insurance, multi-risk professional insurance, etc.

Where is Advans Tunisia positioned in the sector in terms of number of projects, presence in the regions and achievements?

Since 2015, Advans Tunisia offers entrepreneurs (micro, small and medium enterprises) fast loan solutions tailored to their needs in order to support, among other things, their trade, agricultural and livestock development, and catering or service activities.

Today, Advans Tunisia has 470 employees, 63% of whom are women, and 19 branches spread across the Tunisian territory, both on the coast and in the country's inland regions. We serve more than 23,000 customers and our loan portfolio reached 168 million Dinars as of December 2022, an increase of 30% compared to 2021. This places us as the second largest microfinance institution in Tunisia, right behind ENDA.

Advans Tunisia is a fast-growing company, and we regularly recruit young talents, graduates or not, who benefit from a quality training throughout their career with us. This allows them to evolve quickly within the institution and to hold positions of responsibility.

The satisfaction of our customers' needs is at the heart of our action and at the center of our strategy.  Our network of branches allows us to be in close proximity to our customers in order to support them in the development of their activities. We have a call center to assist them across the various stages of their loan application, which is processed in a very short time. According to a recent survey conducted among our customers, 98% of them are very satisfied or satisfied with the services offered by Advans Tunisia.

What is the social impact of Advans Tunisia's activities on project leaders?

Aligned with the Advans Group's CSR strategy, Advans Tunisia places great importance on the social impact of its activities. This means that in addition to financing instruments, we support our clients in their development.

With the financial support of our international partners, we have implemented several programs that help our clients train and acquire the necessary skills to manage their business. These programs have targeted over 6,000 entrepreneurs. The training we offer is personalized and of high quality thanks to the mobilization of experts. We also rely on digital tools to facilitate access to remote training programs.

These programs have notably helped our clients to revive their post-covid economic activity and preserve jobs. We will continue to offer support programs to our clients to further foster their projects.

What are Advans' ambitions for the coming years?

We wish to grow further in order to support more entrepreneurs. In other words, we intend to continue to strengthen our capital base to grow our loan portfolio, enhance our product offering and develop our branch network. This will allow us to offer our services throughout the country. For example, we intend to be more present alongside women and farmers by providing customized offers and specific support programs.

We will digitalize our processes and products further, to improve our efficiency and customer experience. Innovation is at the heart of Advans' service offering and we are looking to digitize the customer journey as much as possible.

We will also continue to focus on social performance, analyzing our impact on clients, strengthening our alignment with client protection standards, reinforcing our social and environmental management system tools and training, and raising customer and employee awareness of environmental and social issues.

Our goal is to maintain an excellent quality of service and, ultimately, to offer entrepreneurs who do not have access to bank financing, personalized technical and financial support that enables them to succeed and create jobs.

About Meriem Zine…

Meriem Zine was appointed CEO of Advans Tunisia in January 2022. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chartered accounting from IHEC Carthage and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from MSB. Meriem Zine started her professional career in auditing at Ernst & Young (EY). She later held several positions in investment, financial management and insurance, particularly life insurance. She spent most of her career at GAT Assurances where she filled several positions.

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